Richard Cohen declares that those who oppose the open admission of homosexuals in the military are bigoted "yahoos"--including the likes of Colin Powell, Sam Nunn and John Warner ["Don't Ask, Take Command," op-ed, Dec 16]. He then challenges President Clinton to end bigotry toward homosexuals in the military the way Harry Truman ended racial segregation--by fiat.

More than racial desegregation, Truman sought to provide equal opportunity for all military personnel regardless of race, religion, color or creed. He included every group he could imagine. What he could not imagine was the inclusion of homosexuals. Until Bill Clinton, no president had ever attempted to open the military to homosexuals.

This may prompt Cohen to add all former presidents to his list of bigoted yahoos, but he might also wonder why some very smart people in the White House and Congress were unable to resolve some very real problems--such as equal treatment under the law and control of military behavior.

For example, if current restrictions were removed, commanders would be forced to punish or discharge heterosexuals who refuse to bunk or shower with homosexuals. The military would have to provide base housing for gay and lesbian partners, and there could be no bar to the participation of uniformed personnel in gay pride demonstrations. As we know from the integration of women in the ranks, an acceptable level of fraternization would have to be established because zero tolerance does not work.

"Don't ask" allows military people to do what they want in private. But unlike civilians, members of the armed forces have different obligations when they put on a uniform and step outside. They are trained to think, act and bond as a group. They are asked to put the group above self regardless of race, religion, color or creed. To add "regardless of sexual orientation or preference" would destroy unit cohesion.

Colin Powell has said that race is basically a pigmentation problem, which is passive in nature, whereas homosexuality represents an active behavior unacceptable in the military. Powell's reason for the rejection of open homosexual integration is one that we could explain to our children. Before he attempts to rule by fiat, Bill Clinton ought to do as much.

--Boyd Goff